Bulls

Who Should Trade for Zach LaVine?

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There’s no disputing the rich history of the Chicago Bulls.

They’ve won six championships, all in the 1990s. They were the NBA home to Michael Jordan for thirteen successful seasons. After the 1997-98 season, however, things haven’t been peaches and cream for the Bulls. In fact, the Bulls have only three seasons with 50+ wins since that 1997-98 championship season.

Those days of dominance are far behind them. For years, the Bulls have been in the last situation an NBA franchise wants to find themselves in: purgatory. The Bulls not only have been a lottery team for six of the past seven seasons, but to make matters worse, their 2021 trade-deadline deal for Nikola Vucevic set the franchise back even further. For Vucevic, the Bulls traded promising prospect Wendell Carter Jr. to the Orlando Magic in addition to two first-round picks that became Franz Wagner (No. 8 pick in 2021) and Jett Howard (No. 11 pick in 2023). 

Since that trade, the Bulls have re-signed Vucevic, brought on DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball in sign-and-trade deals, and re-signed Zach LaVine to a maximum contract. Ball’s career has been derailed by knee troubles, LaVine and Vucevic are under contract long term, and DeRozan’s deal is now expiring. While there have been reports that the Bulls have had discussions about an extension with DeRozan, it seems LaVine is ready for greener pastures despite being in year two of a new five-year contract.

Shams Charania recently tweeted that LaVine and the Bulls have mutually agreed to find a new opportunity for the multi-time All-Star. Despite their lack of success on the court, the Bulls find themselves in rare territory and have the opportunity to control the trading landscape of this year’s trade market. 

The Trade Landscape

DeRozan and LaVine may very well end up being the two biggest names on the trade market.

While many NBA executives may have their sights affixed on Toronto Raptors stars Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, the Bulls’ options may be more realistic. There will also be plenty of suitors for elite role player, Alex Caruso, should Chicago make him available.

This article, however, will focus on the Bulls options with a LaVine trade given he’s the crown jewel of this February’s trade deadline. 

Ascertaining the ideal trade package for LaVine is a bit tricky. Recently, NBA fans have seen Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday and James Harden all be traded to new destinations. After being sent to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Damian Lillard trade, Portland re-routed Holiday to the Boston Celtics for two first-round picks, Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers traded Harden for two first-round picks, a pick swap, and expiring salary filler.

Beal’s circumstances were different due to the no-trade clause in his contract, which made it difficult for the Wizards to obtain any real assets for him once he made it clear Phoenix was his preferred destination.

With that said, Harden and Holiday are on expiring deals, while LaVine has four years left on the massive deal he signed last season. This should deter any potential suitors from overpaying for the two-time All-Star’s services. The trade package the Bulls receive for LaVine will depend on whether they prioritize cap flexibility moving forward, or whether they prefer picks and/or young players.

Let’s look at the potential suitors.

Potential landing spots: Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors

Miami Heat

The Heat are the most likely landing spot for LaVine after missing out on Damian Lillard.

Miami ultimately did not have enough for Lillard, but the asking price for LaVine will be much lower. Miami has never been afraid to go star-hunting, and after losing two starters from last year’s Eastern Conference champion team, Pat Riley knows his clock to stay in contention is ticking with Jimmy Butler turning 34 years old. 

Despite being a luxury tax team this year, Miami could potentially dodge the tax next year depending how they frame a LaVine trade. A deal involving Kyle Lowry, Nikola Jovic and Caleb Martin with an unprotected 2027 first-round pick could theoretically get it done for both teams. Trading for Lowry’s expiring contract would also give Chicago some cap relief.

In the alternative, there could be a scenario where Tyler Herro and his four-year, $120 million contract is the centerpiece of a Bulls deal too, but as demonstrated by the Lillard negotiations, it doesn’t appear he has much trade value under his current contract. Not only is a LaVine-Herro backcourt lackluster on the defensive end, but having both under contract at the same time basically ensures that Miami is a luxury tax team at least until the 2026-27 season. 

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers have made it apparent they covet a third option to compliment reigning MVP Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.

However, the Sixers are also in a precarious predicament where they’re buyers in the trade market yet they’re also the only true contenders preserving their cap space and flexibility for this offseason. Therefore, the Sixers may prefer exploring different avenues than taking on LaVine’s bloated contract.

Theoretically, the trade would be Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Furkan Korkmaz, Danuel House and two first-round picks. All the contracts the Sixers would be trading to Chicago in this scenario are expiring, basically ridding the Bulls of LaVine’s contract. The Sixers would be the team that would likely go in a different direction here, however.

Los Angeles Lakers

First, it is far more likely that the Lakers make a deal for DeRozan than LaVine.

In the event the Lakers target LaVine, however, a trade involving D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Jalen Hood-Schifino and an unprotected first-round pick would be the best package the Lakers could offer without including Austin Reaves.

On FanDuel TV, Shams Charania stated that the Bulls would covet Reaves in any potential Lakers deal.

In addition, Sam Amico reported that Chicago would likely want Rui Hachimura in a LaVine deal. Given the Lakers are hard-capped at the tax apron, they’d also need to add Gabe Vincent into a Reaves/Hachimura package just to salary match for LaVine. At that point, the Lakers would be losing substantial depth to get their third star.

In the first trade scenario, D’Angelo Russell almost assuredly opts into his $18.7 million player option next year, while Rui Hachimura has two years/$35.2 million left on his deal after this season, so the Bulls may prefer expiring deals unless they believe they can trade Russell and Hachimura for more assets at a later date.

Sacramento Kings

This is my favorite landing spot for LaVine.

For those that don’t remember, LaVine signed with the Kings in 2018 restricted free agency before Chicago matched the offer sheet. Additionally, it was reported by Shams Charania that the Kings are expected to be very aggressive in this year’s trade market for Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby or LaVine.

After making the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season, Sacramento finally broke through as the three seed in last year’s Western Conference. For the Kings, the trade offer would likely consist of Harrison Barnes, Kevin Huerter, Davion Mitchell and a 2026 first-round pick with some light protections on it.

While other offers consist of more salary relief, the theory here is that Chicago wouldn’t want to totally bottom out. This deal allows the Bulls to receive two starting-caliber players, a former lottery pick, and a first-round pick, potentially allowing them to remain semi-competitive, especially if they extend DeRozan and Vucevic sticks around through the duration of his contract.

New York Knicks

Any time there are rumors of a multi-time All-Star in the prime of their career on the trade block, the Knicks will always be a potential landing spot.

The Knicks have Evan Fournier’s expiring salary to match salaries in a trade for a star, and they can combine that with either RJ Barrett or Immanuel Quickley to dangle in a deal. The Knicks also have a multitude of first-round picks to part with. Even though Quickley is a pending restricted free agent and could receive a deal outside of the Knicks’ price range, Barrett may be a better match in a trade due to salary.

If the Knicks offered Quickley instead of Barrett, Donte DiVincenzo would also need to be included, which sacrifices some of the Knicks’ depth. While some executives in the Knicks organization may still believe Barrett’s upside could be a LaVine-type player, trading him after a hot start to the season for a clear upgrade with multiple years left on his contract would be beneficial. 

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have plenty of versatile defensive options on the wing like Dorian Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neale, Ben Simmons and Mikal Bridges.

But they could use a scorer of LaVine’s caliber. The most-likely trade chip in terms of salary matching for LaVine’s $40 million tag is Simmons. Given Simmons’ contract is perceived as a negative and has three more years left on it after this year, this could cause Chicago to seek other alternatives.

One of those alternatives is Spencer Dinwiddie, O’Neale, Dariq Whitehead and a first-round pick. Both Dinwiddie and O’Neale’s contracts are expiring and Chicago may entertain the cap relief. The Bulls could also trade Dinwiddie and/or O’Neale to contenders for additional assets. If the Bulls don’t mind tying up their cap space on Simmons, then maybe they could even convince the Nets for an additional asset for relieving them of that deal.

Additionally, Brooklyn owns multiple future firsts from the Suns and Mavs that are all far out in the future and can be perceived as valuable picks.

Golden State Warriors

Outside of Steph Curry, the Warriors have been severely lacking on the offensive end to start the season.

Despite adding Chris Paul’s playmaking, nobody on this roster outside of Curry can create their own shot. The Warriors could offer Paul’s de-facto expiring contract, Jonathan Kuminga or Moses Moody and a first-round pick to Chicago for LaVine.

However, the Warriors are currently paying the biggest luxury tax bill in NBA history two years in a row, and they recently shed some long-term salary by trading Jordan Poole for Paul. Therefore, the Warriors may be hesitant to take on LaVine’s albatross of a contract. 

Ultimately, while there are 22 other potential landing spots where LaVine could land, these are not only the most likely teams that will pursue LaVine, but the teams that also need him the most. Since being traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Chicago Bulls, LaVine has averaged 24.4 points per game on 47% from the field, 38.3% from three-point range, and 83.7% from free-throw range. LaVine will add shot creation, elite catch-and-shoot ability, and offensive efficiency to whatever suitor pulls the trigger in a deal for him, and the return package should be able to kickstart a rebuild in Chicago.

About Steven Bagell

I'm a self-proclaimed NBA Front Office and Salary Cap Expert and I'm host of Bird Rights Podcast and One & Done: A College Basketball Podcast.

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